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As Pre-K Deadline Approaches, NYC Helps Enroll Children In Shelters

Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K Dismissal in Queens on Friday, March 14th, 2014.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K Dismissal in Queens on Friday, March 14th, 2014. Flickr/nycmayorsoffice

The city's Department of Education staff have been visiting homeless shelters as part of a push to help families apply to what is perhaps the signature achievement of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration: free pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-old New Yorkers.

New York City families have until March 15th to apply for a pre-K seat. This is another stage in the rollout of universal pre-K which started in 2014. There are now about 70,000 students enrolled in free pre-K across the city, compared to only 19,000 students in New York City who were enrolled in 2013.

At the same time, the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students living in temporary housing, approximately 105,000, with about 15,000 of them living in homeless shelters. Connecting those students to schools is especially challenging as they move through various shelters and neighborhoods.

According to researchers, children facing housing instability experience higher stress, and need a stable school experience. Sean Torres, a supervisor with the DOE outreach team, said connecting pre-schoolers in temporary housing to the city’s programs was critical.

“The children are at the crux of their personality development, they’re learning a lot — social skills, making new friends — and that has a lot of implications for their academic future and careers,” he said.

Zakeila Claborne said her daughter has been thriving at her pre-school in Harlem. She’s learned shapes, colors, and numbers and has made a lot of friends. “She loves to get up in the morning,” Claborne said. “She has a good bond with the teachers and the students. It’s very nice.”

But when her family moved to a transitional housing facility in East New York, Claborne said the commute to school went from a couple blocks to an hour-long subway ride. So, on a recent afternoon, she was hunched over a computer at the Win Family Residence as DOE staff walked her through how to find nearby programs.

In addition to pre-kindergarten, the city is expanding opportunities for 3-year-olds, increasing from 5,000 seats this year to 20,000 seats next fall. “We’re pushing it out hard and fast and we can accommodate a lot of people this year,” Torres said.

The pre-K deadline is this Friday, March 15; the 3-K application deadline is May 3rd. Families looking to apply can visit schools.nyc.gov or call 718-935-2009.

Jessica Gould is a reporter in the newsroom at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @ByJessicaGould.

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